Thankfully Vin had fallen asleep shortly into the ride home, but that gave Larabee plenty of time to think.
I want to keep him.
He knew Vin's words were a product of the pain medication, but there was also some truth to them. They all owed a debt of gratitude to Standish for saving Vin's life and Vin probably felt some obligation to repay him. But it was more than that. Ezra was smart. He was as quick with his hands as his mouth. He had no qualms in going up against someone bigger than him. Ezra had proven that twice by taking on both Buck and himself. His record as an undercover agent was strong. He could fill the missing spot on Team Seven.
There were just two problems. Ezra belonged to the Atlanta FBI, and he didn't know who the hell he was. And until he did, it was a moot point.
Still, they could show the man their appreciation by making sure he had company as well as keeping the doctors on their toes, and when he got better see if he'd entertain the idea of staying in Denver. For now he had a doped up sharpshooter to care for.
"We're home," Chris said.
"Wake up, Vin."
Big blue eyes opened.
"Let's get you inside," said Chris.
Vin blinked a few times and yawned.
"Come on," Chris encouraged.
Finally the brain seemed to kick into gear. It took some maneuvering but they got Vin out of the car and into the house.
"Straight to the bedroom?" asked Chris.
"No. Pit stop," Vin said softly.
"You all right?"
Vin shook his head.
"Deep breath," said Chris as Vin paled. He quickly flipped the lid down on the toilet and eased Vin down, careful of his knee.
"You're not going to be able to get on the floor," he said as he handed Vin a trashcan.
Vin closed his eyes and nodded trying to breathe through the nausea.
"Are you all right for a minute?" Chris asked, visions of a similar scene a couple days ago filling his mind. He shook it away hoping to never go through that fearful time again.
Vin nodded and Chris quickly made his way to the kitchen. He had hoped that this time he wouldn't have a bad reaction to the anesthetic, but it seemed that was just Vin's luck. He popped some bread in the toaster, grabbed a can of 7-up and a package of crackers. He cringed when he heard the retching from the bathroom.
"Aw, Vin," he said softly, his own stomach rebelling slightly at the sound. Hopefully this bout wouldn't last long and Vin would be able to keep down his medications and get some sleep.
JD jumped out of his chair, startled by the shout.
"Ezra? Ezra, wake up!" he urged, shaking Ezra's shoulder.
Standish pulled away from him, opening his eyes and grabbing his head almost all in the same motion.
"Easy, Easy," JD soothed. "It was a dream."
Seeing that Ezra was still clutching his head, JD darted into the hall. "Nurse? Excuse me, Miss?"
"What can I do for you?" she answered.
"Ezra seems like he's hurting pretty bad," said JD, nervously shifting his weight from foot to foot. "Can you give him something?"
"Let me check. I'll be right there."
JD went back into the room. Ezra had released his grip on his head and now had one forearm resting across his eyes blocking out the light.
"Are you all right?" JD asked softly.
"I'm sorry for that display, Mr. Dunne," Ezra replied without moving his arm.
"It's JD. And no need to apologize. Can't help it if you have a bad dream." JD paused and put his hand on Ezra's ankle. "The nurse is going to bring you something for the pain."
"Thank you," said Ezra.
JD waited a few moments. "Do you want to talk about it?"
Ezra shifted his arm and peeked at the young man.
"Despite the evidence, I'm a pretty good listener," JD said.
Ezra smiled. "You have to stop downgrading yourself, JD. You are gifted with a sensitivity that most would never recognize. I know what you did, and I thank you for it."
JD ducked his head.
"You've helped someone through pain in the past?" Ezra asked.
JD nodded. "My mom."
Ezra moved his arm away from his face and rested it on the bed. He could tell from JD's expression that his mother had passed on.
"I'm sorry," Ezra offered.
"Thanks," said JD, trying to brush it all aside, "But we were going to talk about your nightmare."
Ezra chuckled dryly. "My whole life is a nightmare."
"Yeah," said JD, "But I meant the one you just had."
Ezra closed his eyes and took a couple of long slow breaths. "I think I remember the accident."
"Really?" asked JD.
"I'm afraid I may have caused it. I remember struggling with someone and grabbing the steering wheel."
"You were fighting in the car? Why?"
Ezra swallowed hard. "I think he knew me."
JD's eyes widened. "So your cover was blown?"
"There was a gun," Ezra said. He squeezed his eyes shut and rubbed his forehead. "He was going to kill me."
"But Markum didn't know?" asked JD.
"No, he never got the chance to tell him."
JD took a good look at Ezra. He was trembling and breathing hard almost as if the incident had just happened.
"You did the right thing, Ezra," he soothed wishing that the nurse would hurry up with the pain medication. "It was him or you."
Ezra nodded and focused on calming his breathing. At least he knew now that he was an agent. And he understood the compulsion for protecting himself when he awoke in the hospital. He had been trying to protect his identity just before the accident and subconsciously he continued that even though he didn't remember why.
"Mr. Standish," said the nurse as she entered, "I understand you're hurting. On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the worst, what's your pain level?"
Ezra blew out a breath. "About a nine," he said without opening his eyes.
"All right. The doctor ordered something a little stronger for you," she said as she injected the medication into his IV port. "It should help you sleep as well."
Ezra opened his eyes. "Thank you," he said softly.
"We'll give you another dose in four hours," she said checking his blood pressure and pulse rate before leaving the room.
"Is it helping?" JD asked.
Ezra yawned and JD chuckled. "I'll take that as a yes."
"Larabee," said Chris as he answered his cell phone.
"Hi Chris. It's me, JD. How's Vin?"
Chris sighed. "Sick."
JD swore softly. "I thought they were giving him something new this time."
"They did," said Chris. "Apparently it has the same affect on him."
Chris couldn't help but smirk at JD's response. "Yes, it does. What's up?"
"Spit it out, JD," Chris ordered when JD hesitated.
"Well, Ezra had this horrible nightmare. Really shook him up. Only it turns out it wasn't just a dream, he's remembering the accident."
"And?" asked Chris, knowing that JD wasn't calling just to say Ezra had a dream.
"He remembers struggling with Paulson," JD paused. "He says Paulson knew who he was and was trying to kill him. His cover was blown."
Chris let off a string of curses. Slowly regaining his composure, he asked, "How did Paulson know?"
"I don't know. Like I said Ezra was pretty shook up, and he was really hurting. I got the nurse to give him some more pain meds and he finally fell asleep."
"We need to find the leak," said Chris.
"Yeah," said JD. "I'll see if he remembers when he wakes up, but he's gonna be out for awhile. The doc told him earlier that being so stressed wasn't helping him and if he didn't get some rest he was gonna give him something that would make him rest. Ezra wasn't too happy with that, but he agreed. He actually seemed relieved that they gave him the stronger stuff. He told me I should go home, but I'm going to stick close."
"Have you got your weapon with you?" asked Chris acknowledging the need to keep watch over Ezra until the leak was found.
"Yes, sir." JD had gone into full-blown agent mode.
"All right," said Chris. "Are you okay with this?"
"I can do it."
"I know," Chris affirmed. "It's been a long day. I'm just asking how early I need to have Buck come relieve you."
"I'm fine, Chris. Really."
"All right. Call us if anything doesn't seem right."
"I don't care what time it is," said Chris. "I'll call the rest of the team and set up a rotation."
"Okay," said JD. "Tell Vin 'Hi' for me."
"I will, said Chris. "Watch your back, JD."
JD smiled briefly as he hung up the phone. "Excuse me, Ma'am?" he said to the nurse at the station. "Could you give me the number for Security?"
Three phone calls later it struck Chris that if something happened he couldn't run off and leave Vin alone. Between the pain meds making him loopy and the reaction to the anesthetic making him sick, Tanner needed someone to keep an eye on him. Sighing, he placed another phone call.
"Chris!" she said, "It's good to hear your voice, but it's late so don't beat around the bush. What's wrong?"
Chris chuckled softly. Nettie was always to the point. She was a neighbor and had been a great help to he and Sarah when they first bought their ranch. She'd also been the one that introduced Vin to him when he started building Team Seven.
"Vin told you about his knee surgery?" Chris asked.
"Yes, I was planning on visiting tomorrow. He isn't sick again?"
"I'm afraid so. They used a different anesthetic, but he's still sick," said Chris.
"What do you need, son?" Nettie asked.
"I hate to ask, but I was wondering if you could come over and stay with us," said Chris. "I'm on call and might have to leave and I don't want to leave him alone."
"Give me about an hour and I'll be there," said Nettie.
"Thank you," said Chris. "I really appreciate it."
"It's my pleasure, son. It will give me some time to work on putting some meat on that boy's bones."
Chris grinned. "See you in a few."
The smile quickly faded when he heard retching from the bedroom. He took a couple of slow deep breaths before heading to the room.
Vin was hanging over the side of the bed, his head over the trashcan.
Chris walked over to the bed with a fresh plastic liner for the can.
"You done yet?" he asked. "Never knew a body could hold so much puke."
"Go to hell, Larabee," Vin growled.
Chris was silent for a moment. Putting the joking aside he asked, "You all right?"
"I'm about ready for a pain pill," Vin admitted.
"Rinse and spit," Chris said handing him a glass of water.
Vin did as instructed and groaned as he carefully rolled onto his back, his leg protesting the movement.
Chris pulled the old bag out of the can and tied it closed before putting the new liner in. "I'll get you some toast and your pill."
Vin nodded and closed his eyes, focusing on his breathing in hopes that the nausea would end.
He must have dozed off because the next thing he knew, Nettie was sitting on the side of his bed.
"I hear you're feeling poorly," she said tucking the blankets around him.
Vin could feel himself blushing.
She patted his leg. "I'm brewing some peppermint tea. That always seems to help."
"It's the middle of the night," Vin said.
"You stomach doesn't seem to know that," she answered.
"You didn't have to come."
"I wanted to. Now you stop talking and get some rest."
Vin's eyes widened as his rebellious stomach struck again. He rolled as quickly as his aching body allowed, but it wasn't fast enough. He managed to hit the floor, the garbage can and Nettie's shoes.
"I'm sorry," he moaned, wishing he could disappear.
"Nothing to be sorry for," Nettie said graciously as she discreetly slipped off her shoes and wiped them off with the roll of paper towels Chris had left by the bed.
"No," Vin said in almost a whimpering protest when Nettie eased herself down to the floor to wipe up his mess.
"Let me get that," said Chris as he came into the room. He helped Nettie up.
"I'll get the tea," said Nettie knowing that Vin was embarrassed and needed some space.
Chris could feel Vin's stare as he cleaned up the mess. Finally he looked up and met his eyes.
"I wish I'd throwed up on your shoes," said Vin.
"No," said Chris, "You wish you didn't throw up at all."
"Why didn't you tell me she was coming?"
"You were sleeping when I called her," said Chris. Seeing that wasn't enough to satisfy, he added, "Standish remembered the car accident. His cover was blown. He struggled with the guy and that's what caused the accident. JD's watching him, but I needed someone to stay with you in case something goes down."
"You still could'a warned me," Vin growled.
"You were asleep," Larabee repeated.
"I still wish I throwed up on your shoes."
Chris shook his head knowing Tanner was half serious. He piled all the mess in the trashcan. "Do you think you could keep from puking for a couple minutes while I get a new can?"
"Go," said Vin grumpily.
Chris took the trash away and came back a few minutes later with a new can. Vin was still resting on his stomach, his chin hanging over the side of the bed. Chris shuffled up to the bed. "All right, Cowboy," he said. "Puke away."
Vin opened his eyes and looked at Larabee's feet, which were parked practically under his face. The weary Texan started chuckling.
"Well?" said Chris. "I'm ready."
Vin only laughed harder. "Smart Ass," he gasped.
Chris was wearing Vin's slippers.
The rest of the night was uneventful and Chris managed to get a couple hours of sleep before leaving for the office. He'd given Nettie the keys to the gun cabinet before he left, cautioning her that while it wasn't likely, it was possible that someone would come after Vin. She had frowned at the news but told him not to worry, she had plenty of experience with a rifle. He had no doubt.
He stopped by the hospital about the time Buck was relieving JD's watch. JD reported that Ezra was sleeping soundly. He hadn't even so much as moved in bed after the stronger medication took hold. Chris sent JD home to get some sleep and instructed Buck to let him know as soon as Ezra was awake so they could quiz him about the leak.
Arriving at the office, he had a short briefing with Orin Travis, updating him on the situation, then left to take Jarvis to the airport. He had assured Andrew that his team would keep close tabs on Ezra, and while Jarvis wasn't happy to be leaving Ezra behind, he seemed satisfied with Chris's promise.
On his way back to the office, Chris made a quick phone call home to check on Vin and was happy to hear that the nausea seemed to be abating and Vin was resting.
Checking in with Josiah and Nathan, they were hard at work trying to track down information on Paulson and any possible links to him that could be a leak. It was a slow, tedious job and it didn't hold much promise for answers. The quickest way would be if Standish could remember, but even that might have to wait. His doctors didn't want him stressed any more than absolutely necessary, and trying to remember was definitely causing stress.
Chris thumbed through Ezra's file again, calling the contact number for his mother, the only kin listed in the file. The answering service picked up and he left another message for her to contact him about Ezra. He wasn't sure what he'd tell her when she called, but she deserved to know her son had been injured. And that he might not remember her.
"I told you last night, there's nothing to be sorry for, Son," said Nettie. "Would you feel better if I wore your slippers, too?"
"I'll buy you a new pair of shoes."
"Vin Tanner, are you listening to me?" scolded Nettie.
"Yes, Ma'am," Vin replied.
"It was just an old pair of sneakers and they'll wash. In fact they're in the dryer right now and they'll be fine. I know you're embarrassed but it's time to get over that," said Nettie. "Besides, I've seen a lot worse, especially from a skinny long-haired teenage boy."
Vin grimaced. Nettie was right. That little bout last night was embarrassing, but it was nothing compared to the time he decided to try out her liquor cabinet. He still didn't understand why she wanted to keep him around. He'd been nothing but trouble for her.
He still remembered the first time they'd met. One of his teachers had told him he could get a summer job at Nettie's ranch. It had sounded like a good idea. He'd earn some money and he'd be away from the reach of the gangs around Purgatorio. But he wasn't prepared for an old woman meeting him on the front porch with her rifle. He'd relaxed a bit when it turned out she had been chasing off a coyote that had been killing her chickens.
The summer job turned into weekends during the school year and his junior year Nettie had gone through the necessary red tape to become a foster parent and Vin had come to live at the ranch full time. It made life harder for Nettie because she insisted on keeping him in the school where he already felt comfortable and that meant driving into the city twice a day. The teacher who had found him the job was Nettie's sister and sometimes she'd drive Vin home, taking her daughter Casey out to the ranch to visit her aunt.
About a month before his senior year was to start, Nettie's sister died in a car accident. Casey came to live with them and Nettie's attention had to be focused on the girl. She'd been injured in the accident and needed extra care while she recovered physically.
Between Nettie's grief and Casey's needs Vin felt that he didn't belong. Young and stupid he hadn't recognized his own grief for the loss of his favorite teacher. He'd gotten it in his head that Nettie needed to focus on Casey, since she was blood kin, and that she didn't have enough resources to care for both of them. But Nettie wouldn't let him go. So Vin subconsciously had started doing things to drive her away, to push her to get rid of him. He repeatedly broke curfew and when that wasn't enough, he'd broken into the liquor cabinet and drank until he passed out.
She didn't yell at him. She didn't lecture him. She just said three words: "I'm so disappointed." It had broken his heart. Nettie's respect had been so important to him that no other lesson was needed. He'd learned so much about love that day. Despite her disappointment she tended him as he vomited repeatedly, each loving touch searing into his soul reminding him of his failure. Of his hurt. And that maybe someone else could love him as much as his ma.
They'd talked about it when he felt better physically. Nettie was just going to let it go, knowing that Vin had learned his lesson, until she realized what brought on the behavior. He'd bawled like a baby when she apologized for neglecting him. He denied that she had neglected him and she got cross with him when he said Casey was more important. He still didn't understand how Nettie could love him, but he knew that she did and he loved her right back.
"Where'd you go?" asked Nettie.
"Just remembering the last time I throwed up on your shoes," Vin said softly.
"We both learned a lot that day," said Nettie. "How about we get you up and around for a bit?"
Vin nodded. "You're something else, Nettie."
"And so are you. Now get out of that bed."
"Changing of the guard?" asked Ezra.
"You're awake," said Chris.
"That happens when someone is staring at me."
"Sorry. How are you feeling?"
Ezra was quiet for a moment, and then said, "My headache seems better."
"Good," said Chris.
"Where's Mr. Dunne?"
Chris looked at his watch. "Probably getting ready for bed."
Ezra looked at the window. It was clearly dark out. JD had been with him at night and told him he was staying the night. Something didn't compute.
"You slept through Buck's shift," said Chris, "And Nathan's."
Ezra raised his eyebrows.
Chris nodded. "You slept almost 24 hours."
"That must have been strong medication," said Ezra.
"Doctor Benning says you must be sensitive to it. He said next time he'll give you a lower dose, but he's happy you slept."
Ezra yawned before he could cover his mouth. "Pardon me," he said.
Both men were silent for a few minutes.
"Something's on your mind?" Ezra asked.
"Yes, but I'm not supposed to stress you," said Chris.
"Well, now if you don't tell me, I'll be stressed more."
Ezra rolled his eyes. "Tell me."
"JD said you remembered the accident and that Paulson knew you."
Ezra sucked in a breath sharply. "You want to know how he knew me."
Ezra grimaced. His headache was coming back. "I don't remember."
Chris cursed and ran a hand through his hair.
"I'm sorry," said Ezra.
Chris held his hand up. "No need. That was not meant to be aimed at you. It just makes me angry that someone is leaking information about agents. You were almost killed. Vin was almost killed. Maybe next time someone will die. I've got to find the leak."
"Vin wasn't a leak," said Ezra.
"I know that," said Chris. "Vin would never do something like that."
"No," said Ezra rubbing his right temple. "I mean it wasn't a leak. It was Markum's lunacy."
Ezra was now massaging both temples.
"Vin was just a pawn," he said softly. "Markum told me after I 'killed' Vin."
Ezra took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.
"Vin was simply the unlucky choice. Markum's paranoid. He didn't know Vin was a cop. He needed someone to use as an example, to show his men what he would do to them if they turned on him. Vin was just there at the wrong moment and Markum picked him to make an example of."
Chris was shaking his head in disbelief.
"I'm afraid part of it was to test me as well. I know I'm supposed to be this great undercover agent, but apparently he saw something was different after the accident and his paranoia was enhanced."
Ezra hissed in pain. The headache was back full force.
Chris reached for the call button and pushed it.
"Relax," said Chris. "I called for the nurse."
Ezra closed his eyes and focused on breathing.
"I'm sorry," Chris apologized. "I shouldn't have pushed you."
"No sense," Ezra gasped, "No sense in wasting time and money chasing down something that didn't happen."
"True," said Chris, "But I'm sorry it's at your expense." Seeing the nurse come in, he added, "Ezra's awake and he's hurting."
She quickly and efficiently checked Ezra's vitals as well as his IV. "I'll put a call into your doctor. He wanted to be notified when you were awake."
She left the room and both men waited in silence. Ezra kept his eyes closed and focused on relaxing. Chris watched him, wishing there was something he could do.
"You're doing it again," said Ezra.
"What?" asked Chris.
"Staring," Ezra said with a half smile.
Chris shook his head.
"You have your team working on the leak?" asked Ezra.
"I think I knew him in Atlanta. He wasn't with Markum, though. But he's dead."
"So?" asked Chris.
"You don't need to stay. The guy in the car knew me, but he never had the chance to tell anyone else. My cover was safe for almost 4 weeks after the accident. I don't need a guard."
"Humor me," said Chris. "We'll check out Paulson's ties to Atlanta. If your hunch is right I'll pull the guard."
Again silence filled the room, but this time Ezra seemed to be hurting a little less. Within a few minutes he opened his eyes. "Could I trouble you for a glass of water?" he asked.
"No problem," said Chris pouring water from Ezra's pitcher into his cup. "I'm afraid it's not very cold."
"Wet is good enough," said Ezra cautiously raising the head of his bed with the control. His hand trembled as he accepted the cup from Chris, but Larabee didn't draw attention to it.
"Mr. Standish? I'm Doctor Nelson," said a young man as he entered the room. "Doctor Benning was detained and asked me to take a look at you."
"I'd like to see your ID," said Chris.
The doctor raised his eyebrows at the challenge. "You must be one of Larabee's men."
"No," Chris hissed. "I am Larabee."
Ezra found himself half smiling at the scene playing out before him. Although it may be a bit excessive, it felt good to be protected, especially after living in fear for so long.
"I'm reaching for my wallet," the doctor said. His ID was clipped to his coat pocket, but he knew that wouldn't be enough for this man.
Chris took the wallet and looked at the driver's license, comparing it to both the hospital ID and Nelson's face.
Chuckling from the bed distracted him.
"Mr. Larabee, you are a Pit-bull."
"Shut up, Standish."
With one last glace at the ID, he handed it back to the doctor and nodded toward the bed. No apology offered.
"Mr. Larabee, now that I've passed your test, would you mind giving us some privacy?"
Ezra grinned. "I'm sure I'll be fine."
"I'll be in the hall," Chris growled threateningly.
A couple of hours later, Josiah took over for Chris and he went home to relieve Nettie. Buck and JD had gone by both ranches and taken care of the animals.
"He had a good day. He's in the den. You're dinner's warming in the oven," said Nettie. "Eat it and get some sleep."
"Nettie," he said softly as she opened the back door, "Do you know how special you are?"
"Don't go gettin' all mushy on me, Chris Larabee," she warned.
Chris pulled the feisty woman into a hug. "Thank you."
She hugged him briefly. "Eat. Sleep," she ordered as she left the house.
Chris stood on the porch and watched until she was safely away, then went inside to check on Vin.
He walked in the Den and found Vin perched precariously on his crutches, reaching for something on an upper shelf.
"What the hell are you doing?" he asked.
Vin jerked in surprise, but quickly caught his balance. "What the hell are you doing?" he counted. "Sneak up on a man when he's not looking "
"When he's doing something he shouldn't."
"I am not. I'm not putting my full weight on my leg. I'm balancing just like Doc said I should. I did all my exercises, ate all my food and even took my damn naps!" Vin snapped.
Chris smiled in sympathy. "Long day?"
Vin sighed as he hobbled over to the chair and eased himself down. "I just hate it when Nettie has to do for me."
"She enjoys it," said Chris as he sat down on the couch.
"I know, but "
"It's just that we all should be doing for her, you know?" said Vin.
Chris nodded. "We are and we will. Buck and JD took care of the animals."
"Don't remind me," said Vin. "JD tracked manure in."
"Don't worry. Nettie made him clean it up, but I was stuck listening to cow poop jokes for an hour."
Chris started laughing and Vin joined him.
When he caught his breath, Vin said, "Nettie says, eat, then sleep."
"I think I'll do that," said Chris.
"See ya in the morning," said Vin as he stood and hobbled his way down the hall.
Chris turned off the lights and headed to the kitchen, knowing that whatever Nettie left him, it would be delicious.
The next two days seemed to pass quickly. Standish spent most of the time either sleeping, having tests or in therapy. Vin was now free to shower, and he only had to use his crutches when he walked on uneven ground. He was happy with the new found freedom, but knew the mother-henning wouldn't stop until he was completely healed.
Chris had called the guard off from Ezra when they were able to confirm with Atlanta that Paulson was connected to Ezra from a prior arrest. He had been in Denver laying groundwork when Ezra went undercover with Markum in Atlanta. They hadn't seen each other until Paulson picked up Standish from his hotel in Denver, and that ride had ended with Paulson dead and Ezra not remembering anything.
Vin had a doctor appointment and insisted on staying at the hospital with Ezra until Chris could pick him up after work. For the most part it was a dull day, watching Ezra sleep, chatting occasionally, and watching TV during Ezra's psychotherapy sessions. About two-thirty in the afternoon, everything changed.
"Ezra, Darling! How are you?"
A beautiful blonde woman whose age seemed undeterminable floated into the room.
Ezra didn't speak, startled by both the entrance and the stranger who seemed to know him.
Her soft gasp of shocked disappointment seemed to shake Ezra free from his silence.
"M-mom?" he asked. He didn't recognize her, but his mother was the only family listed in his file, and it was the only person he could imagine that would call him 'darling.'
"Oh, it must be my new hairstyle," she said, trying to regain her composure. "It's all the rage in France."
Ezra nodded, still shocked.
"I'm Maude Standish," she said, offering her hand to Vin. "Ezra's mother."
"Vin Tanner, Ma'am," he said returning the handshake.
"Do you work with my son?" she asked.
"Not yet," said Vin giving Ezra a slight grin, hoping to ease the tension. "We're friends," he added. "Your son saved my life."
Ezra did a bit of a double take at Vin's comment, but his distress over not recognizing his mother kept his focus.
"That's my boy," Maude said. "Are you feeling all right, Darling?"
"I'm fine," Ezra answered.
"If you were fine, they wouldn't still have you cooped up in this room," Maude said. "We'll get you home soon. Get the best doctors money can buy."
"He's already got the best doctors, Ma'am," Vin interjected.
Ezra saw the flash of anger in his mother's eyes and spoke to intercede on Vin's behalf. "He's quite right. I've been treated extremely well, and Doctor Benning is one of the best."
"I want the best."
Ezra silently extended his hand to his mother. He may not remember her, but he knew that she was truly shaken and needed his support. Maude took his hand and he gently pulled her a little closer to the bed.
"Doctor Benning says I have episodic retrograde amnesia, which means I can't remember events that happened to me in the past. I can remember historical events, places, just not my own past." Ezra squeezed her hand. "He says I'm doing very well, better every day."
He closed his eyes for a moment. He had a headache, but it wasn't nearly as bad as before. Doctor Benning had been very encouraging, saying that the more he rested, and the more the brain swelling subsided, the more he would remember. He was very hopeful that Ezra would eventually recover completely, but cautioned that it could take months.
"I want to stay here until he feels I'm ready to go home," said Ezra. "He knows my case and I like him."
"You always were stubborn," Maude said as she sat down in the chair by the bed, still holding Ezra's hand. "And I love that about you."
"I have a feeling I'm just like my mother," Ezra said.
Vin stood up and moved quietly toward the door. "I'll be back in awhile, Ezra. Nice to meet you, Ma'am."
"Mr. Tanner," she returned.
Vin watched mother and son, both lost and trying to find something familiar. He slipped out into the hall and nearly ran into Chris.
Vin held up a hand. "Don't go in."
Chris followed him toward the elevator. "What's going on?"
"Ezra's mother showed up. They need some time."
"Did he know her?" Chris asked.
A slow shake of the head told him all he needed to know.
Ezra wasn't sure how long they had stayed like that - hand in hand, sitting together in silence. He felt guilty that he had hurt his mother by not remembering her, but even worse was the deep fear he felt from not remembering his most basic relationship. How could he not know his own mother?
"I don't call you Mom, do I?" he asked quietly.
"Not since you were itty bitty," said Maude, not daring to tell how much she missed hearing her baby boy call her 'Mommy.' "When you were four, you started calling me Mother."
"You left me," Ezra said softly.
Maude swallowed hard. "I always did what I thought best for you, Ezra." Of all things, why did he remember that? The first time she had left him with someone else for more than a few hours was when he was four, nearly five. He was to start school in a couple months, and she would not be done with her business before that time. She had left him in the care of a loving aunt and would never forget him crying for mommy as she left. She would never forget his tears, nor her own. When she returned almost six months later, she was 'Mother', never to be 'Mommy' again.
"I made some choices that you did not appreciate when you were younger, but I always hoped you would come to understand them as you got older," said Maude. "I wanted the best for you, Darling, and sometimes that meant difficult choices."
"I don't blame you," said Ezra.
"But you don't even remember," said Maude.
"I don't need to remember everything to know that I love you," he said squeezing her hand.
Maude smiled. "And I love you. Now, let's talk about getting you healthy and home."
"You ready to go home?" asked Chris as they walked down the hall.
"No," Vin replied. "I told him I'd be back."
"You've been here all day."
"So?" Vin countered.
Chris stopped him, putting his hand on his forearm. "What's going on?"
"You should have seen him. It ripped his heart apart to not recognize his own mother," said Vin. "Can you imagine what that would be like?"
Chris just stood quietly, waiting as Vin worked out what was upsetting him.
"It's bad enough that he doesn't know himself, but he didn't even recognize her at all. Then he was real upset with himself when he didn't know her. Someone should have told him she was coming."
"I didn't know," said Chris. "I left a couple of messages for her, but I never reached her. Maybe Jarvis got through, or the hospital."
"She was pretty shook up, too," said Vin. "They must have told her he might not remember, because she knew right away when he didn't. She tried to hide her disappointment, but it was easy to see."
"Not much we can do about that," said Chris. "We can't make him remember."
"I know, but she wanted to take him away."
"Vin," said Chris. "He's not ours to keep."
"I know," Vin growled. "I thought maybe if he was around here long enough, he'd like it enough that he'd take you up on the job offer."
"Who says I'm going to offer him a job?" asked Chris.
"You will," Vin snorted. "You'd be a fool if you didn't. It's not often an undercover agent is dropped in our lap and that just happens to be what we need. Just think, maybe you won't get any more gray hairs from me going undercover, . . . you'll get them from him."
Chris cuffed him playfully on the side of the head. "Smart Ass."
Vin glanced at his watch. "Dinner?"
Chris nodded and the two walked toward the cafeteria.
"Oh, hey, Ezra," said JD. "I didn't know you had company. I'll come back later."
"Come in, Mr. Dunne," Ezra invited. "This is my mother, Maude Standish."
"JD Dunne, Ma'am," said JD with a big grin. "Wow, Ezra. Are you sure she's your mom? She's awful young."
Maude squeezed Ezra's hand, knowing that he wasn't certain at all that she was his mother. "Why thank you, Mr. Dunne," she said.
"Please call me Maude. Ma'am makes me feel old," she countered. "How do you know my son?"
"We met on a... um " JD stammered
"He works with Vin," Ezra supplied.
"My son didn't save your life, too, did he?"
"Oh, no, Ma'am. I just wanted to drop by and see how he's doing."
"I'm much better, Mr. Dunne," said Ezra. "The headaches are for the most part gone."
"That's great," said JD. "Here, I brought you something to help pass the time. I know how boring daytime TV can get."
Ezra accepted the plastic sack and looked inside. He pulled out the portable CD player.
"I wasn't sure what kind of music you like, so all the guys loaned a couple of their favorites."
Ezra perused through the CDs. Jimmy Buffet, Sting, Keith Urban, Elvis, Johnny Cash, Garth Brooks, Faith Hill, Bon Jovi, Cat Stevens, AC/DC, Genesis, The Eagles, a little of everything. Too bad he didn't know which one he preferred.
"Thank you, JD. This is very thoughtful," said Ezra as he placed them on the tray table beside him.
"Anytime," JD answered. "Are you going to be able to stay long, Ma'am?"
Maude smiled at the sweet young man. She knew he couldn't help but address her politely, in spite of her permission to call her by name.
"I could only get a couple of days," she answered.
"But she's trying to rearrange her business," Ezra added.
"Do you have a place to stay?" asked JD.
"Yes, I have a hotel. In fact, I was just thinking of going back."
"Do you have to go?" Ezra asked quietly. Even though he didn't remember much about his mother, she knew him and that was a source of comfort in his world of uncertainty.
Maude pasted on a smile. She couldn't help but remember all the times her son had said those words in the past. It didn't matter that he was a grown man, the words still tugged at her heart just as they had when he was small.
"I can stay a little while, but I'm afraid the jet lag is catching up to me," she said.
"Oh," said Ezra apologetically. "You should go. I know how far you had to travel to get here."
"I came as soon as I heard," she offered again in her own apology.
"I know and I'm glad that you did," said Ezra.
"You get some rest, Darling," said Maude, "and I'll be back tomorrow."
Ezra squeezed her hand one more time, holding on until she gently pulled away.
"Do you have a ride, Ma'am?" asked JD.
"I'll call a cab," Maude replied.
"I can give you a ride, Ma'am," said JD. "My car is nothing special, but it's reliable."
"I wouldn't want to impose," said Maude.
"Oh, you wouldn't be," said JD. "I'd be glad to do it. I'll tell Buck to get in the back."
"Buck?" she asked hoping that it wasn't a mangy dog.
"Mr. Wilmington is in the car?" asked Ezra.
"Yeah," JD said slightly embarrassed. "We're not supposed to cause you stress, so Buck figured it would be best if he stayed in the car, because, well, you know."
Maude raised her eyebrows in question as she looked at her son for answers.
"Mr. Wilmington and I have butted heads," Ezra said.
"Literally," JD added.
"Ezra?" asked Maude.
"Mother, they are ATF agents, you should be safe with them," said Ezra. "JD, please convey to Mr. Wilmington that he is welcome to visit if you happen to be nearby again."
"Okay, that's cool, Ezra," said JD. "Mrs. Standish, I'll go bring the car to the main entrance."
"Thank you, Mr. Dunne," said Maude. "I'll say my goodbyes and be down shortly."
JD nodded to her. "See ya, Ezra. Oh, it's a dark blue Volvo, Ma'am."
She smiled as he left. "What a nice boy."
Ezra stifled a yawn, but Maude caught him.
"You need to get some rest, Ezra," she said pulling his blanket up and tucking it around him. She leaned over and kissed him on the forehead. "I'll see you tomorrow."
"Good night, Mother."
Maude turned away and quickly headed for the door. She didn't want her son to see her tears. After all, appearances were everything.
Vin had stopped by Ezra's room again, but he was asleep. He left a note saying he would stop by the next day. He kept Ezra company off and on through out the next two days, making himself scarce occasionally so that Maude could have private time with Ezra. On the second afternoon Ezra had a CT scan and an MRI and before Chris came to pick up Vin after work, they had the good news that the brain swelling was almost non-existent and the doctor felt he could be released the next day if he had a place to go to rest, and someone to keep an eye on him.
Vin had offered that Ezra could stay with him, but Maude had her own plans. She had wanted to take him to Atlanta immediately, but the doctor discouraged them from flying so soon after his hospitalization. While there was no evidence to prove flying would be dangerous, he simply advised against taking the risk for at least a week. So that left two options, driving Ezra back to Atlanta, which over 1400 miles away certainly wouldn't be restful, or staying in town another week, and then flying him home. They opted for him to stay the week and Maude extended the reservation on her hotel suite and hired a private nurse. Ezra felt it was all unnecessary, but preferred his mother's plan to imposing on men he barely knew who really had already gone beyond the call of duty.
Maude was unable to delay her business for more than 1 extra day, but she was there long enough to get him settled in the hotel and enjoy a room service dinner with him before retiring early to rest up for the next day's long flight.
The day she left, Vin spent half the day at the office doing paper work, and at lunch Josiah drove him to Ezra's hotel since Chris was in a meeting.
Vin let out a low whistle as they approached. "JD said it was fancy, but I didn't realize it was this place."
"The Brown Palace," said Josiah, "noted for catering to presidents, kings and queens."
"I think I'm underdressed," said Vin with a grin, looking at his jeans and button down shirt.
Josiah chuckled. "I'll let Chris know where you are."
"Thanks for the ride, 'Siah."
Josiah waited until Vin was inside before driving away.
Vin walked up to the main desk.
"May I help you?"
Vin had the distinct impression the man wished he wasn't helping him. "I'm here to see Ezra Standish. He might be registered under his mother's name, Maude Standish."
"Is he expecting you?"
"He said I could drop by," Vin answered.
"I'll ring his room." The clerk walked back to a phone and placed the call. He returned to the front desk and handed Vin a card key for the special elevator and gave him instructions to reach the Eisenhower Suite.
It took a few minutes to reach the suite. He knocked on the door. It took a moment before the door opened.
"Welcome to my humble abode," said Ezra with a smirk, waving Vin inside.
"Humble? That ain't quite the word I'd use," said Vin, taking in the enormous luxury suite.
"Yes, well, Mother has connections."
"I can see that. Hell, Ezra, you got this whole place to yourself?"
Ezra nodded. "The private nurse has a room on the next floor down."
Does she always do stuff like this?" Vin asked.
Ezra nodded again. "From what I remember, yes. Mother is accustomed to a high standard of living."
"Then how'd you end up with the FBI?" asked Vin as he sat down carefully on the posh sofa.
"I'm not completely certain, but I think part of it was simple rebellion."
Vin grinned. "I can see you doing that. So what are you going to do for the next few days?"
"Well, despite my release from the hospital," said Ezra as he sat down opposite Vin, "I'm finding that I still need a lot of rest. The headaches get worse if I'm upright too long, but Doctor Benning told me that would happen and eventually I'll be fine."
"Are you really okay with going back to Atlanta so soon?" asked Vin. "Doctor Benning seems to really know his stuff."
"I'm not really okay with anything, Vin," Ezra answered frankly, "but I have to go back to my life some time. Doctor Benning gave me a couple of referrals for colleagues in Atlanta. I'm sure I'll be fine."
"Wish you could stay here," said Vin.
Ezra smiled. "I wish I could, too, Vin. Your friendship, both while undercover and after has been invaluable in helping me."
"Hell, Ezra, we haven't even done anything fun, yet."
Ezra laughed. "And what pray tell is your idea of fun?"
"I don't know," said Vin. "Maybe a little rock climbing, hiking, horseback riding. I've hang glided a time or two."
"Sounds like a lot of work," said Ezra.
"Sure, there's some work involved, but the benefits are great," said Vin. "What do you like to do?" asked Vin, knowing that he was pushing Ezra a little.
"I remember art galleries and concerts," Ezra said softly. "I'm not sure, but I think I remember stables."
"You ride," said Vin. "You gotta come back to Chris's ranch and ride there. We all board horses with Chris."
"Really? The whole team?" asked Ezra.
"Yeah," said Vin. "We do a lot of stuff together."
"Sounds nice," said Ezra. "I'm not sure whether I do anything with my coworkers, but Agent Jarvis didn't seem to think so."
When Ezra sighed in frustration, Vin decided it was time to stop pushing.
"Hey, do you like sports on TV? I can't pass up an opportunity like this. How big is that screen anyway?"
The rest of the week went by too quickly, and the evening before he was scheduled to leave, Ezra invited Team Seven to his suite for a thank you dinner. It wasn't nearly enough to express his appreciation, but it was all he had at his disposal. He had them order anything they wanted from room service and they ate in the suite enjoying each other's company.
All too soon the evening was over and the men were saying their goodbyes. Chris and Vin were the last to leave.
"You sure you don't want a ride to the airport in the morning?" Chris asked.
"No need to trouble yourself," said Ezra. "The hotel has a limo."
Chris nodded. "Listen. We have a spot open on our team. We need a good undercover agent. I'm offering you the job."
Vin smiled. He knew Chris would make the offer.
"Mr. Larabee, I am grateful for the offer, but I have to go home," said Ezra.
"You're a good man. We could use you on the team," Chris added.
"But that's just the point. I need to go back to Atlanta. I need to know if I'm a good man or not before I can even consider your invitation."
"You are, Ezra," said Vin putting his hand on Ezra's shoulder.
Ezra smiled and shook his head. "Thank you, Vin."
"I'm serious about the offer, Ezra," said Chris. "I can hold the position for two or three months, but don't make me wait too long for an answer. If I have to send Vin undercover too often, I'll end up with an ulcer."
Ezra grinned. "What makes you think I won't give you one?"
Vin had returned to desk duty the week after Ezra left, and full duty two weeks later. Ezra had been on leave six weeks after his return to Atlanta, but had gone back to work with the FBI. He had not been sent undercover since his return to his team, but he had been using his skills to help plan operations. He would not be allowed undercover until the FBI psychologists cleared him.
Ezra focused his energies on rediscovering himself and reconnecting with his teammates. It didn't take long to find that his team was no Team Seven. Not only did he not click with them like Team Seven, he realized he never had. The team only socialized at office parties or special events. There was nothing wrong with that; it just paled compared to the family atmosphere of Team Seven.
He'd come close to picking up the phone and accepting Larabee's offer, but he was still missing a lot of pieces of his life. He knew it was possible that he would never remember some things. He also knew that despite popular theory in the movies, being around familiar things did not necessarily cause memories to come flooding back.
Still, he'd almost laughed when Chris Larabee came striding into the FBI office asking to speak to Jarvis. He'd talked to his boss, and then Jarvis had talked to Ezra and told him Larabee was going to try to steal him away if he could. And then Jarvis had told him the strangest thing. He'd said, "Ezra, you still have two weeks vacation. Don't forget to use it."
And then Larabee had asked to speak to him in the conference room. The extent of his "trying to steal" Ezra away had been one question: "Well?"
Ezra had laughed then. Chris Larabee had flown 1430 miles to say one word.
Ezra had expressed his concerns about the psych evaluation and Larabee countered that he had passed it according to Jarvis. He questioned whether his seniority and pension would transfer between agencies and Chris had assured him that Orin Travis would make it happen. He'd have to trust him.
That was really the issue wasn't it?
Chris had asked him if there were any more arguments and he had said no. Then Chris asked, "So is that a yes?" and Ezra had said, "Yes." He was going to Denver. He left Chris in the conference room and went to talk to Andrew.
"That's what he asked," said Ezra.
"And your answer?" asked Andrew
"I told him yes," said Ezra. "I've enjoyed working with you Andrew, and I can't tell you how much I appreciate you going out on a limb for me."
"You're a good man, Ezra," said Andrew. "Good luck in Denver. You're going to take those two weeks now?"
"I should wrap things up," said Ezra.
"You got no cases pending," said Jarvis. "Finish the day, Ezra. Bring me your files and passwords."
"Thank you," said Ezra.
"Oh, and Ezra?" said Jarvis as Ezra was leaving the office. "Let me know if they have any openings for team leader."
Ezra smiled. "Yes, sir."
Three hours later he was driving Chris to his condo.
"I can put up in a hotel, Ezra," Chris said.
"There's no need Mr. Larabee. I have plenty of room." Ezra downshifted the jag smoothly as he slowed for the stoplight.
"Nice car," said Chris. "Your mother?"
"No," said Ezra with a chuckle. "I bought it at an auction of seized drug vehicles."
Chris shook his head. "Oh, by the way," he said, "Do you have room for two?"
"Excuse me?" said Ezra as he turned into the driveway.
There sitting on the front porch was Vin Tanner with a stack of moving boxes.
Ezra stopped the car and started laughing. "A bit presumptuous, isn't he?"
"Be glad he didn't pick the lock," said Chris as they got out of the car.
"Mr. Tanner, you are cluttering my porch," said Ezra, "I'm afraid that's against condo association rules."
"So?" said Vin. "You're going to be moving anyway."
Ezra shook his head and unlocked the door. "You really are presumptuous."
"Nothing presumptuous about it," said Vin. "You said yes, didn't you?"
Vin looked inside and grinned. Ezra's hallway was cluttered with freshly packed boxes. "Now who's presumptuous?" he asked.
"It's not presuming when you have an offer," said Ezra. "Make yourself at home - if you can find a place to sit."
"I'm glad you found him, Ezra," said Vin.
"Found who?" asked Ezra as he moved a box off the closest chair and placed it on the floor.
Vin waited until Ezra turned and looked at him. "You know," he said tapping his own chest with his fingers, "The man inside."
Two days later the movers had packed the last items on the truck and Vin and Chris had cancelled their return flights at Ezra's insistence that there was nothing like a road trip in the jaguar.
"Well, that's it gentlemen," said Ezra as the moving van departed. He dangled a set of keys. "Who wants to drive?"
"Oh, I definitely do," said Vin.
"Your leg is still healing," said Chris.
"It was healed two months ago," countered Vin.
"But I'm your boss so I'm driving," said Chris.
"If you don't stop arguing," said Vin, "he'll probably make us hitchhike."
"Oh, no," said Ezra. "I'm not riding in the jag." He handed the keys to Chris.
He opened the garage door and exposed a classic 1957 Thunderbird convertible, a beautiful red, with a black interior.
"Sweet!" Vin praised.
"Hey, I've already been in the jag," said Chris. "I wouldn't mind driving the T-bird for you."
Ezra grinned climbing into the car and starting it up. "Not a chance."
Vin smiled at Chris. "See if you can keep up, Cowboy."
He jumped into the T-bird and waved as Ezra accelerated away.
Chris shook his head. He needed to buy stock in an antacid company.